The White Lady looks down at The Knight, and they do not look up to meet her gaze. Her blinding eyes would not see them for what they were, and her regal judgement itches in its inaccuracy.
They were expected, she tells them. Or one like them; one of her children. One of the vessels.
“I implore you, usurp the Vessel,” she asks, voice soft. “Its supposed strength was ill-judged. It was tarnished by an idea instilled. But you.” She bends down so to better examine them, and they step back. “You are free of such blemishes. You could contain that thing inside.”
The Knight would like to talk, now almost more than ever. To scream, and deny, and ask her how? How could she still hold full faith in a plan doomed to fail from its very conception?
How could she be so cruel?
If the Pale King had wanted an empty shell in which to seal a God, there was one lying perfectly empty out at the Kingdom’s Edge.
The White Lady straightens her neck. She continues, as if there is no issue with asking one's child to replace their sibling’s rotting, living body, as prison for a God. What of when their shell failed too? Would she await another vessel? Another scion?
There were only so many living left; the Pale Monarchs had seen to the end of their children.
The Knight leaves their birthplace with a new charm embedded into the Void that forms them. They know now that technically they were born somewhere else, and cast down just to be called back up after Void had filled their shell. But there is no other way to rationalise just how the Abyss matters to them.
Whatever other birthplace they may have had, that place is as unknown and unfamiliar to them as taking accountability is to the Queen.
The Knight has their little laugh at her expense. They are mad. They think maybe they hate the White Lady, their mother. But they don’t always want to spend energy on feeling that way. It helps to joke.
They have no way to tell her how apathetic, self centred and cruel her actions and inactions have been. Even if they did, there was no guarantee she would even register what they were trying to say. The White Lady maintains an incredible level of wilful ignorance, and self-delusion. It’s hard to be around her.
It was also something she seemed to share with her husband. No cost too great, was the thought still engrained in his corpse when they swung at him with the Moths’ Dreamnail. Now they knew what he meant. The Pale King must have really meant it too, or at least thought about it hard enough, for it to imprint on his dreams as it did.
It was horrifying, regardless. His apathy towards his children, and every justification he would make for his own actions. No cost too great, for the Pale King was not the one paying.
It’s not a long way to the Hidden Station, and not a long ride from there to Dirtmouth, but The Knight lingers a while to listen to anything the Old Stag might want to say. Anything at all. He has been a good friend.
They wonder if he would have more to say if they could tell him goodbye. Regardless, they have no voice, and can’t remember how to shape the words with their hands like they used to. When they turn and run out of the room, it’s exactly like every other time they’ve left a stag station.
Dirtmouth is the same as when they left it. Still so small, and so empty, but just a little more lively than when they first arrived. They are glad Elderbug won’t be alone anymore.
The sound of Brumm’s accordion drifts down through the breeze, with the chatter of troupe members milling through the circus tents.
The Knight feels guilt, briefly, that they won’t be able to see whatever the ritual was through to the end. They have friends in the troupe that they wanted to help, with whatever this ritual did. Some things were more important though.
They do sidetrack to Sly’s shop first. He looks up when they dump all of their geo onto his counter, in a glittering pile.
“No,” he says, and The Knight knows he has them figured out. “No,” he repeats, when they push Nailmaster’s Glory over the counter, beside the geo pile.
They turn to leave, and hear his quick footsteps. “Wait,” Sly is right behind them when they turn around. “Take this with you at least. You are the last pupil of my three students. Show them that respect.” He gives them back the charm. They look at it, and at him. He is unwavering. The Knight nods, and leaves.
They hesitate to enter the Grimm Troupe’s tents; they don’t know how to say that they’re leaving, so they don’t.
Instead, they walk to Elderbug, who is still standing by the bench. He stares up to the cliffs of Crystal Peak. His age shows on his shell in a way the Knight can only be envious of.
He turns, and the lines at the corner of his mouth soften when he sees them. The delicate flower is still cradled in his arms.
“Traveller, you’ve returned…I must thank you again for this gift. Truly, it chases the darkness away from me,” they stare up at him for a moment, until he pauses to ask. “Have you come for something?”
The Knight shakes their head, and opens their arms. “Oh…certainly, let me just put this down.” Elderbug gently lays the delicate flower on the iron bench with shaking hands. He stoops to embrace them, and they hold the first friend they made in this ruins.
It’s the only goodbye hug they have gotten from any friend— the only hug that they remember getting at all. Not one of the people they met let The Knight get close enough to care for them as they wanted to.
Elderbug releases them. “Has something happened, my friend?” The Knight shakes their head, no. They would like to stay longer, but every minute and every hour humid orange mist spills out from Dirtmouth’s well in greater quantities. They want a better option, or a real choice, but there’s no more time left.
Hallonest’s stasis is coming to an end.
The lights in Cornifer and Iselda’s shop are out; with Hallownest fully mapped, the couple have moved on. It was sad to see them go, but The Knight at least got to share a meal with them before they left. One bright spot in their collection of goodbyes.
Zote sits outside Bretta’s house with a fool’s armour tucked under his arm. He still speaks, on and on about his adventures and his precepts, though Bretta’s long gone over the Howling Cliffs. Another friend The Knight didn’t get to give a proper goodbye.
Zote is…not their friend willingly, and perhaps not anyones’ friend at all. He is strange and annoying, and does not ever shut up. But he is someone The Knight will never see again, and it’s certainly easier to say goodbye to him than to the friends expecting them back. The Knight is a hypocrite in this manner, wanting goodbyes from others but struggling to give them when it’s their turn.
Still, they open their arms to him. He crosses his arms, and turns his face away. “Of course you would want to be near me, cur. All you pathetic little nobodies would want a chance to speak to a knight of great renown, such as myself.” He says more, but The Knight isn’t listening. They tilt their head, questioning.
Zote pauses to glance back. “Fine,” he grits out. They wonder if he, like Sly, has realised. He doesn’t hug them back, but he does shake in their arms, just slightly. They wonder whether he’s had many goodbyes too. They pull back, but before they leave entirely, they place something in his palm. Baldur Shell will find more use with Zote in the future, than with them.
Zote’s hand closes around the charm, and his fist shakes like he might throw it at them. “Get out of here!”
The Knight dashes down, cloaked in shade and soul, past the infected husks clogging the crossroads. The increased presence of the infected is a concern; it feels almost like wading through burning, rotting crowds. The Knight wonders if the Forgotten Crossroads were anything like this in their heyday.
Infection splatters from the swollen underbelly of a furious vengefly, and they jump back to avoid the searing explosion to follow. PROBABLY NOT, they think.
Hornet waits, arms crossed, outside the Temple of the Black Egg. She must say something, but they can hardly hear her now past the Void rushing in their ears. Their shell buzzes like a Hiveling nest, but they know their face remains impassive. They have no other expression.
Hornet is speaking again. “The path is opened. One way or another an end awaits inside,” She points to the unsealed Black Egg with her needle. “I won't be joining you in this. That space is built to sustain your likes. Its bindings would drain me were I to join.”
They nod emphatically. The Knight does not want her near— their sister does not need to be collateral damage for whatever freeing a God looks like.
Hornet looks faintly surprised, but mostly impassive. “You are being very agreeable about this. Regardless, while I’ll not risk my life, if opportunity presents I will aid you in the battle as best I can.” To this, The Knight shakes their head. They point to the Black Egg, and to Hornet, and cross their arms emphatically.
“No?” Hornet sounds confused, maybe offended. “I assure you I am perfectly capable of helping. If you should-“ they lay one hand on her needle-wielding arm, to stay her emphatic gestures, and she stills. The Knight clasps their hands together, under their mask and prays that she understands.
Hesitantly, she starts again. “Are you…begging me? Not to enter, nor to help?” They nod, frantic, pointing again to the entrance and crossing their arms. She seems to consider. “Very well,” her tone is harsh. “If it is a death wish that brings you to this, finish first what you came here for. There are no more chances for this old world.”
They grab her arm, one more time before she can leave, and her glare is cold and sharp. They pull out a rolled up sash from their cloak, and pass it to her. It unravels, and the thirty-something charms pinned along it glint in the orange low-light.
Hornet’s voice is raged filled, but her eyes have a new sheen. “Keep these,” She grinds her mandibles behind her mask. “You will need them.”
The Knight thinks she must care more than they had realised. They show her where their own charms are already strung onto a necklace, and she turns away.
Her needle strikes the wall in the caverns outside, and they catch the flare of her red cloak and the glint of charms on their grey sash, before she’s gone from sight.
The Knight turns to the Black Egg, and enters alone.
Their younger sibling is far, far taller than them, and stumbling under the weight of their own mask. The thick infection oozing from every wound seems to have hollowed them out, and rendered their shell too heavy for their shade. One arm has rotted off entirely, and they can still see the shall flaking off; at no point was it a clean injury. It seems funny, The Knight seethes, that OUR little sibling is hollow now, and a host of the infection; is this not exactly what the King wanted?
It is a long fight, filled mostly with dodging. The Hollow Knight does not seem eager to fight either, staggering around on legs far too long, with a nail far too heavy. It ends when The Knight skewers them, Pure Nail embedded in the ground, pinning their sibling by the thorax, to the ground. Glowing orange lightblood soaks through their cloak, but The Hollow Knight does not scream. No voice to cry suffering.
The Knight sways, just a little, knowing they have no time to be sick.
In their tiny window of opportunity, The Knight draws the Moths’ Dreamnail, and swings. They enter their sibling’s dream realm, weaponless.
It is brighter than anything The Knight can still remember. It has likely never been this bright in Hallownest in their lifetime.
There is almost a fight; it is to be expected. The Radiance doesn’t know what they come for, and She must protect Herself from the Pale King’s will. But The Knight bears no weapon, and only has the means to listen. They climb to the highest point they can reach, and sit in wait.
They see Her wings unfurl in the distance. She knows that they are there. The Knight sits, face tilted up to Her light.
Suddenly, Her face fills their vision, as She floats in front of the platform. She is far larger than anything they have fought, or even encountered before. They cannot see where her legs end, below the clouds. Glowing, blinding Light cuts into the air when she moves; her dusting of scales and fur just barely conceal the light She emits. The light She is made of. Her moth shell seems a courtesy, to save them from instantaneous evaporation at the hands of the heat of the Sun.
She addresses them then. “You are not here for any other God then…Are you here for me?” She speaks only at a whisper, but Her voice cuts through the warmth and humidity hazing their mind, and every word itches as if it is being painted onto their shell. Not a bad feeling, necessarily, but strange. The Knight nods, to answer Her.
“You needn’t worry. I have long spoken with your sibling. I will hear you however it matters,” She tells them. It is not something they have ever been told before, and certainly not something they had been told by other Higher Beings. Though…Unn did not speak with them at all, and it may be that the Root’s singleminded and self-centred world view was uniquely her own, and not the product of divinity.
Still, The Knight thinks of the Seer’s intuition and understanding of their charades, even with her blind eyes. They remember the insight they gleamed from other’s dreams and thoughts with the use of the Moth Tribe’s Dreamnail. This is the deity from whom every dream was derived, and to whom every moth was devout. Was. Old crimes still bring fresh anger, it seems. The Knight could not save the Seer, nor most of their friends, and it was not even their place to try. But the rest…
CAN HALLOWNEST BE SAVED, The Knight asks the God.
She laughs, and the clouds laugh with Her. “Hallownest is long dead. That kingdom never belonged to me, nor even to you, despite your progenitor. You are of the Void, more than of the Wyrm and Root,” Her wings flap once, and still again, light bursting from every gap in Her feathers. “This crater, however, and this world within, is not beyond rescue.”
The Knight knows, knows, that there is more outside Hallownest. They had travelled those outside lands for a long, long time. Still, they do not remember it. They can not. And it is jarring to hear the whole world that they know of referred to as just a crater.
WHAT CAN BE DONE, they ask, and WHAT CAN I DO.
“Before the King, there was balance. Do you know of your God?” Looking up into Her face, the Knight thinks that if their eyes weren’t just Void, they would be as blind as the Seer. Then they think perhaps, this is how she went blind. They shake their head; no.
“I had though as much. I will tell you then, of the Pale Monarchs actions and their carelessness. And I will tell you of your Deity; my partner, though now They are gone.”
“From the start, creating a child around the Void would never work as intended. The Abyss had been sealed for the first time long ago, and the damage had been done. Sealed away from the rest of the world the first time, by the Wyrm’s corpse, wedged firmly in between. The smoke and oil of the Void could no longer seep naturally up into the world. Nor could it lay rest to light that burned too bright and scorched mortal minds.
There were no bugs made of Void; Void would seep into shells, and nests, and broods, and settle in the bugs within. It was never a threat, nor a concern; only a natural phenomenon.
My Partner was my temperance, you see. Lord of Shades, God of Void and Body and Birth. Partner and mirror to my Light And Dreams and Death. I live in the dreams of my people, and They lived in the shells. That was how we existed. There is a reason that trying to seal me inside a mortal body would be so harmful.
Your sibling is lucky to have been of the Abyss. Any bug untouched by the Void would have turned to ash around me, and I would have emerged free again. It is only my Partner’s domain that has saved them so long. The issue is that my power is unbalanced, and overwhelming. I have no need to torture your sibling. But all I can do to help is not allow them to feel any pain. My jurisdiction is Death, and I can make it peaceful.
Do not look at me that way. Your sibling is still alive, by a thread. My dominion was common knowledge before the Pale King. It is why my children care for the dead. For most, Dreaming and Dying are the same.
From the very beginning of the Wyrm’s interference, before he had even shed, he had destroyed the balance of the world. That necessary symbiosis, no longer could be achieved.
With the sealing of the Abyss, the Shade Lord first thrashed and writhed below the corpse barricade. It was quite impenetrable. The Wyrms claimed pride in that. With this realisation, the deity took every insect trapped below the corpse, and wrapped them up in Their wings. They sunk below the void lake, deep deep into the ground, to travel away. They could resurface elsewhere, and every child of the Void could continue on to live a felicitous life.
My Partner returned alone. They came to find me, for I was here.
We never were reunited. The barrier did not yield, and the balance of the world continued to tip further and further light-side.
The Pale King’s response was to try to eradicate my light completely, as if that would work. Fixing a problem by creating a bigger problem was never a viable solution. This did not seem to register with the Wyrm. Perhaps he never realised the extent of what he had done.
So the Void’s deity died alone. Their body melted into the void lake, and chunks of Their congealed flesh remained floating in the tar. Their blood frothed the waters into frenzy. At the beginning of Their death, the lake raged. After a long time with no audience, it calmed. There was nothing and no one present to rage at.
Know that I do not embellish,” here Her voice raises above a whisper for the first time. She is grieving still, they realise. “The death of a God is gruesome and long-lasting. It is something to be mourned.”
“Then,” She continues, “A doorway was built into the Wyrm corpse ceiling; built by the Wyrm himself, for no other could pierce his old chitin.
Bodies began to rain down. Children, with pale masks, who did not scream from the drop. No voice to cry suffering.
The Void caught them. The Void did not catch them all, and it mourned, when masks littered the floor. When the living children awoke to their siblings deaths, they mourned together. The bodies continued to fall. Continued to be dropped. The Void became better at catching.
Though the Shade Lord is dead, well and truly, the Void still resounds with Their presence and Their Life. The void lake whispered to the children, and did not even lash out when they fell in. It was a fortunate remnant of my Partner’s jurisdiction.
Were the Shade Lord alive, there would have been no doubt that the vessels would stay safe; the Pale God of Soul and her Wyrm partner would never take Their children away. Would never have been able to take you or your siblings away from Them. But the Shade Lord was dead, and Their body lay decomposing in the void lake.
So when the doors opened one day, and stayed open for a long time, it was entirely up to the Void to deter the pale bugs of Hallownest from intruding further. The lake churned, and slashed, and ripped up through the floor in even more places. Puddles of tar formed where there were none before, and struck at these civilised, domesticated bugs.
And so the Pale King had a lighthouse built, to project his beacon. His light was white, and harsh, and unwelcome. It was nothing like mine. It was still light, and beneath it, the lake calmed.
WOULD THE WYRM OCCUPY THE ABYSS, the Void wondered, for its time as caretaker had given it the ability to do so. IT WILL BE IMPOSSIBLE.
And it was; the land was too hostile.
So the Wyrm reopened the doorway once more, to call his children up. They climbed and they fell, and the Light of the Wyrm in the doorway tore through the physical form of any Void that would try to catch them.”
OH, The Knight says. There is not much else to be said. The Radiance is an exceptional storyteller. They don’t know how to say that without it sounding insulting or oblivious. But there is just one question that they have.
“Your sibling has been my first audience in a long, long time. I have missed storytelling. But I know you wonder why I would spend time on it, while the Light burns outside.” They nod. “You needn’t worry. Hallownest’s stasis is breaking, but I control time in the Dream realm. It is not wasted.”
“You were already prepared for this, I could see. The Light needs Shade. To get rid of the infection completely either I die, or the Void soaks it up. When I do die, the scales will tip void-side, and there is threat of a potential inverse of the infection. The infection would be erased, because Light would be erased.”
“The Pale King knew this, and I suspect that this is the outcome he hoped for. I was trapped in The Hollow Knight’s shell and mind, in such a way that I cannot break free directly into the world. A clever failsafe from the King, but one that would result in both mine and his own child’s immediate death. They have no choice but to keep me trapped.”
“To host me without the Root and Wyrm’s protections would burn your shell up instantly. Your shade will need to work simultaneously with me, to cleanse every instance of infection at once. Then it too, will scorch.”
Her face is so close. I KNEW THE CONSEQUENCES FROM THE BEGINNING.
She smiles, sad. “I wanted to give you more time. I still could, keep time still here for a while longer.” She brings her forehead close so gently, to rest it against The Knight’s, though it is far larger than their whole body. They appreciate it, this moment.
The pull away, and The Radiance does too. The Knight stands on their platform. NOW, they say.
They draw the Moth Tribe’s Dreamnail, and strikes the Moth God through.
The Radiance bursts into essence, and The Knight focuses. Then, they burn.